PBS NewsHour for May 13, 2016 - Part 1



Shields, Michael Gerson, Judy Woodruff>

public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom matching

their gender identity. One man`s mission to reform the national justice

system begins by confronting Alabama`s overcrowded prisons. Mark Shields

and Michael Gerson talk about the possibility of a united Republican Party

and analyze a full week of news. A key Hezbollah leader is killed in

Syria. How are advances in genetic sequencing saving lives?>

Donald Trump; Hillary Clinton; Elections; Civil Rights; Sexuality; White

House; Barack Obama; Prisons; Alabama; Politics; Government>

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I`m Judy Woodruff.

On the "NewsHour" tonight: The White House kicks up an already hot issue by directing all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom matching their gender identity.

Then: how one man`s mission to reform the nation`s justice system began by confronting Alabama`s overcrowded prisons.

BRYAN STEVENSON, Founder, Equal Justice Initiative: If you said to any warden in the state of Alabama, can you identify 50, 100, 200 people in your prison who you think could go home tomorrow, wouldn`t be a problem, most of them could do it in a heartbeat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it`s Friday. Mark Shields and Michael Gerson talk about the possibility of a united Republican Party and analyze a full week of news.

All that and more on tonight`s "PBS NewsHour."


JUDY WOODRUFF: The political and social struggle over bathrooms and gender blew up today. The spark came from a letter sent to school districts across the nation by the federal government, and it drew immediate condemnation from conservative states.

For the nation`s public schools, the issue was already simmering. After today`s federal directive, it`s on the front burner, that is, provide transgender students with access to suitable bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The challenge here is not to isolate anybody. It`s not to discriminate against anybody. It`s not to make anybody unsafe. It`s actually to ensure that our schools are as inclusive and respectful and safe as they can possibly be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued the directive in a formal letter to school districts. It doesn`t impose new legal requirements.

Instead, it cites Title IX`s existing protections against sex discrimination that are tied to federal funding. According to the directive: "When a student or parent notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with that gender identity."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the goal is to protect against harassment and address unjust policies in local schools.

The transgender community welcomed the news.

ALEX SINGH, Student: We have someone who`s very powerful able to help us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chicago student Alex Singh transitioned from female to male two years ago. He appeared in a "Frontline" documentary, "Growing Up Trans," on PBS last year.

ALEX SINGH: When I first came out, I was in seventh grade, and before then, going to the bathroom was kind of uncomfortable for me, as it would be for any guy going into the female restroom. It was very uncomfortable, very nerve-racking. I just felt out of place and like I didn`t belong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And high schoolers in Arlington, Virginia, offered their own reactions today.

QUMARI MARTIN, Student: Equal rights is just -- it`s a part of our government, our amendments. Like, I don`t think it should be, like, based on gender. If you`re a U.S. citizen, you should be treated like one.

CELINA CORDOVA, Student: I would feel comfortable going into the bathroom, because, obviously, they think that they`re female, and I`m female, so they wouldn`t harm me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the backlash began almost immediately.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK (R), Texas: We will not be blackmailed by the president`s 30 pieces of silver. We will not sell out our children to the federal government.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Texas, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick urged his state`s school superintendents to defy the Obama administration, even if it means forfeiting billions in federal aid.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: He`s either paying back the lesbian, gay and transgender community that helped him defeat Hillary Clinton in 2008, or he believes in this policy. I don`t know for what reason he`s doing it, but it is the most damaging policy, domestic policy -- and that`s saying something for this president, who gave us Obamacare -- the most damaging public policy he has put forth.

JUDY WOODRUFF: North Carolina Govern Pat McCrory takes a similar stance. His state and the Justice Department are already suing each other over a new state law restricting public bathroom use to a person`s birth gender.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY (R), North Carolina: This is an issue which is really about privacy vs. equality and that balance. When you go to a restroom or to a locker room or to a shower facility, there is an expectation of privacy, that the only other people in that room, in a very private moment, I might add, will be people of the same gender.

EMILY, Parent: She said, "Mom, I think there`s a boy changing in my locker room."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some parents are worried as well. This woman in Clovis, California, where schools already follow a state gender identity law, expressed her concern this week.

EMILY: I understand that times are changing and that there are issues that need to be addressed. I totally, completely understand that, but I don`t think that this is the right solution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in another development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules today saying transgender people can`t be denied health care by professional providers who receive federal funding.

The transgender bathroom battle also spilled over into the presidential race today. Republican Donald Trump was asked about it during phone-ins to morning TV talk shows. He said -- quote -- "Everybody has to be protected," but he argued it is not a federal issue.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Candidate: I think the states should make the decision. They`re more capable of making the decision. I felt that from the beginning. I just think it should be states` rights. I think many, many things actually should be states` rights, but this is a perfect example of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The two Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, had no immediate reaction.

We will get a full airing of the issue right after the news summary.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that it will no longer allow its drugs to be used in lethal injections. With that decision today, all federally approved drug suppliers have now blocked sales of their products to prison systems. A number of states using the death penalty have begun buying the drugs covertly.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped up his criticism of NATO missile defense sites in Poland. Putin scoffed at U.S. arguments that the system is aimed at Iranian missiles and not at Russia. He told Russian military officials -- quote -- "We will have to think about how we can fend off the threats.`

Meanwhile, Polish and American officials symbolically broke ground for a new missile interceptor site. Another site went operational yesterday.

In Iraq, Islamic State militants attacked for a third straight day. This time, the target was the Shiite town of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. Two suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a busy coffee shop there, killing at least 13 people. Four more were killed in a second attack later. ISIS bombings earlier this week killed nearly 100 civilians and soldiers.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is appealing for patience as travelers face growing security delays at airports. Lines have gotten longer in the face of tighter security procedures and fewer transportation security officers, or TSOs.

At Washington`s Reagan National Airport today, the secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, promised corrective action.

JEH JOHNSON, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security: Our job is to keep the American public safe. We`re dealing this spring and summer with increased travel volume, which obviously puts an added burden on our TSOs and increased demand on the system. But we`re not going to compromise aviation security in the face of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congress agreed this week to inject more money into the TSA to hire more officers and take other steps. In the meantime, officials are warning passengers to arrive at least two hours ahead of their flights.

A cyber-heist that stole $81 million from a Bangladesh bank now appears to be part of a wider campaign. The global financial network SWIFT reported today the same hackers also hit an unnamed Vietnamese bank. And Europe`s largest weapons company, BAE Systems, said the same malware is linked to the cyber-attack on Sony`s Hollywood studio in 2014.

Wall Street`s week ended with a sell-off, led by retail and bank stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 185 points to close at 17535. The Nasdaq fell 19 points, and the S&P 500 slipped 17. For the entire week, the Dow was down 1 percent. The Nasdaq and the S&P were off about half-a-percent.

General Lori J. Robinson made history today, taking over NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command. A ceremony in Colorado Springs made her the first woman to head a U.S. combat command. She`s one of only two female four-star generals in the Air Force. She is said to have a keen interest in space, cyber-security and drones.

And the woman believed to be the world`s oldest person, Susannah Mushatt Jones, has died at the age of 116. She passed away Thursday at a seniors home in Brooklyn, New York. Jones was born in Alabama in 1899, and moved north as a young woman. She never drank or smoked, but said she did eat bacon every day. Susannah Mushatt Jones was the last living American from the 19th century.

Still to come on the "NewsHour": reaction to the Obama administration`s sweeping directive on public school bathrooms; a key Hezbollah leader killed in Syria; why some see Alabama`s overcrowded prisons as a sign of racial injustice; and much more.

The battle over the use of school facilities by transgender students has already flared up in North Carolina and in other communities, including in Southeastern Virginia and a Chicago suburb.

But the directive to all U.S. public schools from the Obama administration spreads it across the nation.

Hari Sreenivasan is in our New York studios tonight, and has more on the reaction and possible impact.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I`m joined by two people who have been involved on both sides of this issue.

Alex Myers is an English teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, a private school in New Hampshire. He`s also an author and speaks frequently about gender identity. He`s transgender, came out in high school and was the first openly transgender student to attend Harvard. And Jeremy Tedesco is senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal advocacy group. It represents several groups of parents that oppose allowing students to use school bathrooms based on gender identity.

Alex, let me start with you.

Why is this so significant to you?

ALEX MYERS, Teacher, Phillips Exeter Academy: This is really a moment of recognition that is unparalleled.

I think the transgender community has been existing at the margins not only of mainstream society, but also in some ways of the LGBT community. And President Obama`s and Loretta Lynch`s statement earlier this week really bring us out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jeremy Tedesco, your organization is involved in two different lawsuits in Chicago and in North Carolina to try to prevent these types of policies from rolling out.

Are there a lot of students not transgender who are trying to go into the other bathrooms, so to speak? I mean, why is this a step too far?

JEREMY TEDESCO, Alliance Defending Freedom: Well, I really appreciate you having us on. And I`m glad we can be on PBS and have a civil discourse about this whole issue.

The reality is, ADF, Alliance Defending Freedom, where I work, has been pushing out policies to school districts for several years now, policies that are promote a compassionate alternative that meets the needs of every student at the school.

So, our policy says students who for whatever reason are uncomfortable using the locker room or shower or restroom designated for their biological sex should be given alternative facilities, single-stall facilities or whatever is available at the school. Almost all schools have those available.

But they shouldn`t allow the privacy rights of other students to be violated in providing those accommodations. There`s interests, rights on both sides of the equation in the bathroom and locker room contexts. Students have an expectation of privacy in those facilities.

And the Obama administration is completely trampling those rights by directing schools to just let students of one sex into the locker rooms and restrooms of students of the other sex.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alex, how is a school supposed to strike this balance to try to protect the privacy of all students, as Jeremy says, not just the transgender ones?

ALEX MYERS: Well, I first think that the basic thing a school needs to do is educate and train faculty, administration and students, just so people are aware.

I think a lot of the problems are actually caused by ignorance, rather than actual incidents. But in terms of privacy and in terms of what was just outlined, I think that the problem with having a separate single- gender, single-use bathroom is that you`re really mandating that something that sounds like separate but equal, when we want is for people to coexist together, for there not to be segregation of any kind.

In terms of privacy rights, I think you might be looking at modifying particularly locker room facilities to allow every student, cisgender and transgender, for more privacy. And I think that what you will find largely is that transgender want to go into restrooms, want to go into locker rooms, they want to use those facilities, they want to use discreetly, and they value their own privacy.

And they are not likely to intrude on others. I would also add that I find I rather ironic that, at this point in time, the conservative movement is mentioning privacy as a right, when, for so many years, they enacted and enforced sodomy laws, which had no respect for people`s privacy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jeremy, in the joint letter today from the DOJ and the Department of Education, there were examples of school districts from Alaska to Kansas City to Massachusetts that all have created policies in figuring a way through this without any lawsuits.

Why aren`t these fixes good enough? Sometimes, it was as simple as a stall with a door or a curtain.

JEREMY TEDESCO: Well, if you put a stall -- for instance, the Illinois lawsuit, where we filed the lawsuit against the Department of Education and a school district outside of Chicago, they did install a few privacy stalls inside the girls locker room, but that doesn`t solve anything, because those stalls are inside the locker room.

And the biologically male student has to walk through the locker room while girls are changing for P.E. class. They are in a state of undress. That happens every day of the year, every year of school, because P.E. is a mandatory class at that school.

So these girls have to suffer the humiliation, the degradation, the affront to their dignity and the privacy violations on an everyday basis in the school. It doesn`t solve the problem. See, privacy rights say that a person of the opposite sex, they stop at the door to the locker room, not at some door to some private stall inside the locker room.

The bar is at the door to the locker room. And that`s -- just that`s consistent with the expectation of privacy that we have always had in our society when it comes to the use of these kinds of facilities. And, again, that right is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

And so what the Obama administration is promoting is something that tramples the privacy rights and the dignity of girls at schools across the country and boys. You know, in Illinois, we have 63 student plaintiffs, 130-plus plaintiffs altogether. These people, you know, they`re religious, they`re not religious.

You know, privacy is something that cuts across religious and ideological lines, and these people just want their children`s right to privacy protected by their schools and by the federal government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alex, what do you say to those parents who are in this lawsuit?

ALEX MYERS: I think that the time has come to be a little bit more educated and a little bit more open.

I really have not heard of any incidents of harassment or assault. I`m not aware of there being any legitimate problems that have been voiced by cisgender students. And, again, I think that the majority, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of transgender people who use public facilities want to do so with respect to their own privacy and their own discretion.

It simply has not risen to any attention that I know of that there`s been any problem with the use there.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jeremy Tedesco, on your site, there -- you also seem to be drawing almost an inference that allowing transgender people these rights is the equivalent to shielding sexual predators.

The examples that you cite on the blog repeatedly seem like either people who are political activists or perhaps sexual predators. Are you trying to equate the two groups?

JEREMY TEDESCO: Well, of course not.

And we don`t think that providing access to people who are truly struggling with gender identity issues is going to be a safety problem. The problem is that these laws allow people to simply self-identify as the opposite sex and gain access.

You can`t tell me, based on all the evidence that`s out there, that people who have, you know, unconscionable purposes, that want to, you know, take advantage of these kind of policies, use them as a ruse to gain access will not do so.

I mean, look, there is a criminal element out there that will do that. We need to recognize that, as a culture, but we also need to recognize the privacy problems. You know, the idea that there hasn`t been any kind of report of some kind of safety problem in a particular situation or a particular school really doesn`t respond to the problem.

The problem is the privacy violation, the incredible amount of uncomfortability, humiliation, degradation and embarrassment that our clients in Illinois, for instance, the girls in the locker room, experience on a daily basis.

Some of the girls in our lawsuit aren`t using the restroom very much at school. They`re holding it all day long. We have another girl who wears her gym clothes under her regular clothes, so she doesn`t have to undress in the locker room.

And then she has to wear soiled, dirty gym clothes the rest of the day just so she can try to preserve her privacy and her dignity in the locker room. We shouldn`t be doing that as a culture.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alex Myers, there is not necessarily a card that you get when you`re transgender. How do you get over that sort of identification problem, when a transgender individual or any individual wants to identify and go into an opposite locker room? What`s going to be the simple rule that works at the parks and recreation department or high school?

ALEX MYERS: I think that you find most transgender people use the bathroom that they feel matches their gender identity and that they can pass in, so that the one that they`re going to walk into and not be kicked out of, the one that they`re going to walk into and not cause an incident.

It really takes special circumstances for a transgender person to walk into a space where they know they are going to be rejected. That`s when the fear of harassment and abuse, in my mind, comes to light.

And I would simply say that there simply hasn`t been a case of any abuse or harassment or any problem of a person being a predator in these spaces posing as a transgender person. Transgender people have been using public facilities that match their gender identity for years and years, and that simply hasn`t happened yet.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jeremy Tedesco, finally, I want to ask you. There are going to be people watching this interview thinking to themselves almost everything that the plaintiffs in these cases that he`s representing, if you just substituted the word transgender with race, this sounds like what people said 50 years ago.

JEREMY TEDESCO: Well, there is simply no comparison.

I mean, here`s the thing. Title IX, which is at the source of all of this, which, by the way, oh, the Obama administration is radically reinterpreting and just ignoring Congress` will by forcing its political agenda on the country, Title IX, for over 40 years, has said that schools can comply with Title IX by having separate facilities, locker rooms, restrooms and showers for girls and for boys.

That is not the equivalent of race discrimination, and the suggestion that it is, is just a tactic to try to get people to shut up and not express their opinions about this kind of a topic. It`s not the same thing. It`s been recognized under the law for 40-plus years. It`s a entirely rationale and reasonable division between the sexes in those kinds of facilities.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Jeremy Tedesco, Alex Myers, thank you both.

ALEX MYERS: Thank you.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Thanks to you all.

And there is much more online, including our report this week on how the U.S. military is working on its new rules for transgender service members. That`s on our home page.

Plus, you can watch "Frontline"`s full documentary, "Growing Up Trans." That is streaming now at PBS.org/Frontline.

Word came today that the man believed to be the top military commander of Hezbollah was killed in Syria. The Iranian-backed group has fought against the U.S. and Israel since it was founded in the early 1980s. And it has joined forces with the Assad regime in the Syrian war.

"NewsHour" special correspondent Jane Ferguson has our report.

JANE FERGUSON: People in this suburb of Beirut have been to many funerals since the beginning of the war in Syria, but none as big as this.

Mustafa Badreddine was believed to be the main military commander of Hezbollah forces fighting in Syria. In life, he was a villain to America and its allies. In death, he is a hero to these people.

In Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut, the funerals of war dead feel like celebrations. Women throw rice and rose petals on the coffin as it passes.

"I know there are martyrs in Syria," this woman says, "but we like that and we are happy because we give martyrdom. If we didn`t go to Syria, ISIS would come to here."

MAN: When the name of this dead man is in our minds, we will always remember that we have to fight. We have to get revenge from those who killed him.

JANE FERGUSON: Badreddine was believed to have been involved in the devastating attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which killed 241 Americans. He was also indicted for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a huge truck bomb in 2005.

He was killed in Syria leading Hezbollah`s military campaign, propping up the group`s ally President Bashar al-Assad. Young men from here often go to fight in Syria for Hezbollah, many returning in coffins. It`s a heavy price the group is paying for its involvement in the war.

The death of this commander, however, is the biggest loss to the group since his predecessor was killed in 2008. Mustafa Badreddine, according to Hezbollah, had said just a few months ago that he would only return to Lebanon from Syria either victorious or as a martyr.

Professor Daniel Byman of Georgetown University says he was a founding member of Hezbollah.

DANIEL BYMAN, Georgetown University: Badreddine`s death is a big blow to Hezbollah. He`s someone who was there at the founding of the movement. He`s been with it in leadership positions, really the tip of the sphere almost everywhere they have been active, whether it`s been in Kuwait, in Lebanon, now in Syria.

And this is a tremendous blow. It has repeatedly lost senior leaders in its history, and it has repeatedly emerged strong and committed. So, it`s not likely to change things in the country.

JANE FERGUSON: It`s not clear who was responsible for his death. Badreddine would have been a target for both Israel and extremist groups fighting in Syria, like ISIS.

Hezbollah leaders say Badreddine was killed in a huge explosion in Damascus and that they`re investigating who was behind the attack. They expect to make an announcement in the coming days.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I`m Jane Ferguson in Beirut.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stay with us.

Coming up on the "NewsHour": Mark Shields and Michael Gerson analyze the week`s news; and how advances in genetic sequencing is saving lives.

But, first, the latest installment in our series Broken Justice about new approaches to criminal justice.

Tonight, we have a conversation with a noted lawyer and author on questions of sentencing, overcrowding in prisons and whether a series of changes around the country go far enough.

Jeffrey Brown traveled to Alabama for our report.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, a nonprofit founded in 1989 by lawyer and civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson to represent death row prisoners and indigent and juvenile defendants who he argues have been denied effective representation, often due to racial bias.

In recent years, which included the publication of an acclaimed memoir, "Just Mercy," Stevenson has become a leading voice nationally for criminal justice reform.

I met him at his office in Montgomery while reporting on Alabama`s overcrowded prisons and spike in prison violence.

BRYAN STEVENSON, Founder, Equal Justice Initiative: There were less than 5,000 people in Alabama`s prisons throughout most of the 1970s.

And then you had politicians like you had all over the country get captivated, I`m going to say intoxicated, by the politics of fear.

JEFFREY BROWN: Intoxicated.

BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes, intoxicated by the politics of fear and anger. They began competing with each other over who could be the toughest on crime, and putting people in prison became the solution to virtually every problem.

Drug addiction and drug dependency, which could have been seen as a health issue, was seen as a crime issue. The growing freedom that was emerging in the Deep South for African-Americans, who until just a decade earlier couldn`t vote, couldn`t go into schools, had to be regulated. So we used the criminal justice system, and you saw this massive increase in the number of people sent to jails or prisons.